Obesity Effects Pregnancy

Maternal obesity increases the risk of pregnancy complications for both mother and child. Women who begin to experience obesity during pregnancy, as well as those who are obese when they become pregnant, have an increased risk of gestational diabetes. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009), one out of every five American women is obese at the beginning of her pregnancy.

Gestational Diabetes - Obesity Pregnancy Risks

Maternal Obesity Pregnancy Risks

Women affected by obesity during pregnancy are more likely to develop serious health problems, endangering themselves and the children they carry. Obesity pregnancy risks include:

  • Gestational diabetes (high blood sugar during pregnancy)
  • Increased risk of Caesarian section
  • Insulin resistance
  • Preeclampsia (dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy).

Maternal obesity also increases the risk of complications arising from surgery and anesthetic use. Surgery-related obesity risks can complicate Caesarian sections, putting both mother and baby at risk.

Effects of Obesity on the Fetus

Maternal obesity greatly affects fetal health and development. Babies born to obese mothers have a greater risk of premature delivery or being large for their gestational age. The risk of stillbirth is also higher in women affected by obesity during pregnancy.

Obesity during pregnancy can cause birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. In addition, researchers at Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona, Spain (2004) report that maternal obesity increases the risk of heart, kidney and urinary tract defects. This study suggests that the higher amounts of nutrients required for fetal development are among the effects of obesity.

Obesity After Pregnancy

The effects of obesity after pregnancy must also be considered. The development of gestational diabetes during pregnancy increases the mother’s risk of type 2 diabetes later in life.

Losing weight after pregnancy is often much more difficult if the effects of obesity complicate the pregnancy. Obesity after pregnancy (also known as postpartum obesity) can negatively affect the mother’s self-esteem and body image, sometimes triggering postpartum depression.

Obesity during pregnancy also affects the child’s risk of obesity later in life. According to the CDC (2009), children whose mothers were obese during pregnancy have double the normal risk of eventually becoming obese themselves. The risk of type 2 diabetes is doubled in these children.

Avoiding Maternal Obesity Pregnancy Risks

Doctors usually don’t recommend trying to lose weight while pregnant, since this can jeopardize the health of both mother and child. Instead, the best way to prevent obesity during pregnancy is to start at a healthy weight and eat a nutritious diet throughout the pregnancy.

Mild exercise is safe throughout pregnancy, and helps women avoid obesity pregnancy risks, as well as obesity after pregnancy.


BBC News. (2004). Obesity a danger to unborn child. Retrieved June 8, 2010, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3905947.stm.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Maternal and infant health research: Pregnancy complications. Retrieved June 8, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/PregComplications.htm#obesity.

Weight-Control Information Network. (2007). Do you know the health risks of being overweight? Retrieved June 8, 2010, from http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/health_risks.htm#pregs.